Former municipal manager for the Newcastle municipality Kebone Masange provided a blanket statement to Newcastle Advertiser regarding allegations that he was complicit in the embattled municipality’s alleged funds mismanagement, under former mayor Afzul Rehman.
“I would like to state that I was a municipal manager up to the time of my resignation, and I believe that my responsibility as the accounting officer ended at that time. I take no other responsibility for issues that may be of any interest from any person as regards matters concerning my previous employer,” he said.
“I believe that for the past four years since my departure, the municipality appointed some capable individuals to lead the organisation as municipal manager. I believe they are better placed to respond to any matter which took place even prior to my appointment as a municipal official. The current municipal manager is a successor in title and should be able to respond to any matters concerning the municipality.
“As regards [to the] contracts referred to in your email, the current incumbent must be in a position [to] respond. All documents relevant to the matters raised are in the custody of the municipality.”
A department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) investigation revealed that Afzul allegedly abused his position as mayor by funnelling municipal money into a company, Phonestatic. This entity belonged to his sister-in-law and was managed by his brother.
Part 5: The Rehman Brothers and Phonetastic
In 2013, a man called Mohamed conducted a Phonetastic presentation to the Newcastle Municipality. The report alleges that this man was, in fact, Riaz Rehman, Afzul’s brother – an allegation the latter denies.
In February 2013, while municipal manager Kebone Masange was out of town, a senior municipal director Eugene Hauptfleisch and CFO Musi Mayisela were said to have awarded a mobile contract to Phonetastic on behalf of the municipality. Both Hauptfleisch and Mayisela stated that they had not known that Phonetastic’s representative and Afzul Rehman were related.
Hauptfleisch stated that he had subsequently asked Masange to cancel the agreement. According to the report, an IT manager had been ordered to move cellphone contracts between Vodacom and Phonetastic as service providers. He was allegedly admonished when this did not happen by Mohamed, who claimed that the mayor was infuriated as a result of the IT manager failing to get it done. The report alleges that Mohamed was, in fact, Riaz Rehman. The latter denies it.
It came to light that this would not be possible, and new contracts were entered into between the municipality and Phonetastic after a letter from the former requested it in writing on February 28. According to the report, Phonetastic was only entered as a supplier into the municipality’s database on July 5.
Upon Masange’s return, he was, according to the report, unhappy because the municipality had contracted with the relative of the mayor. He initially wanted the contract to be cancelled, but eventually conceded to additional contracts being taken out with Phonetastic.
The report says that about R584,886.64 was paid to Phonetastic for a number of mobile contracts, and that the handsets were never received. Nobody was able to confirm which staff members the phones were intended for.
It is alleged that Riaz tried to conceal his family ties with Afzul Rehman during a presentation for Phonetastic to the Newcastle Municipality in 2013 by identifying himself as a Mohamed. Riaz denies this saying there was a Mr Ismail Mohamed who did the presentation on behalf of Phonetastic and that he was not present during the meeting.
Municipality officials discovered that it was impossible to migrate cellphone contracts from one service to another and decided to enter into a new agreement with Phonetastic. Both Hauptfleisch and Masange recalled wanting to cancel the agreement, but it went ahead regardless.
The municipality requested this from Phonetastic in writing on February 28, 2013. At that time, the report alleges, the phones had already been ordered ten days prior. Phonetastic would not be entered into the municipality’s supplier database until July 5 that year.
When Masange returned, he expressed unhappiness with the awarding of a contract to a relative of the mayor. Hauptfleisch said that he had subsequently asked Masange to cancel the agreement and that, according to his knowledge, no products or services had been obtained from Phonetastic, nor had money been exchanged.
In a telephonic conversation with Riaz Rehman, he said:
“We were never awarded a tender on Phonetastic EVER… it was a contract …Where the misconception came about is that people thought the municipality was paying me R100,000 month for a cellphone bill. It’s bulls@#t! The money goes to Vodacom. If they (the municipality) never received their handsets, it’s simple … they just go to Vodacom, subpoena the IMEI numbers, Vodacom will be able to track the handsets.”
Rehman added that he lost out on the Vodacom deal and that he had not done any business with his brother, as the two have not been speaking for years.
“It’s simple…I never stole one cent from the municipality and God is my witness,” he said.